By Marta Ustyanich
If you haven’t been blessed with the lush mane of a Monchhichi doll, you’re probably among the 50 per cent of men who will experience some degree of genetic hair loss by age 50 (fittingly, 30 per cent will experience it by the time they’re 30). The great news is that you’re not at a loss for options if you aren’t quite ready to own your chrome dome just yet.
Hair loss can be an emotionally devastating experience for men, especially if it starts in their teens. The gamut of emotions can range from frustration, to shame, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, and even depression in extreme cases. Bo Hunter’s* hair started to go right at the crown when he was in his early twenties. “I had long hair at the time, and because of the pattern in which I started losing my hair there was really no hiding it,” he says. “The hair on the sides stayed thick and curly, but on top it was unhealthy and thin all over.” Hunter, now 30, recalls his frustration. “For a couple of years, I stopped caring about how I looked entirely. The cost of treatment seemed prohibitive, so I just accepted my fate.”
And while many begrudgingly resign themselves to Mother Nature’s meddling ways, it doesn’t stop them from wondering what exactly it is that causes hair loss in the first place, with the hope that the effects of time can be slowed or, at best, reversed completely.
So Why Does It Happen?
“Like the colour of our eyes or how tall we grow, hair loss is something that’s genetically programmed,” explains Jeff Donovan, MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist and president of the Canadian Hair Loss Foundation. “It’s not a medical illness, it’s not a medical disease, but it is a human trait, and the way we’re destined to bald has been programmed from the time we were born,” he says.
Two main factors contribute to genetic hair loss in men, also known as “androgenetic hair loss” or more commonly referred to as “male pattern balding.” “Andro” stands for the male androgen hormone, but as Donovan explains, “It’s not that balding men have higher levels of androgens in their blood — it’s that their hairs are more sensitive to those hormones. So what happens in balding is that the hair follicles actually get thinner over time.” This process, known as “miniaturization,” is characterized by aggressive thinning of the hair follicle en route to dormancy. As the hair follicles become dormant, they sit under the scalp and eventually disappear if they aren’t stimulated with proper treatments, says Donovan.
Of course, the “genetic” part of “androgenetic” refers to the role that heredity plays in hair loss — whether dad’s had it or grandpa and Uncle Bob on mom’s side did. “I was a little concerned because I have a couple of uncles who went bald, but I didn’t expect it so soon,” says Hunter.
But according to Paul Cotterill, BSc, MD, a hair restoration specialist and former president of The American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, a genetic predisposition isn’t a guarantee that you’re destined for the same fate. “It’s not something that’s a dominant trait,” he says. “Of course, the more family members who are going bald, the higher the tendency that the individual will go bald, but not necessarily,” he explains. So if you’re already dealing with male pattern balding or think it might just be a matter of time, the earlier you examine your options, the better.
Dare To Go Bare
“I’ve shaved my head since my early 20s,” says hair-loss sufferer Brendan Mills*. “I actually preferred it. But as my friends started pointing out that my scalp was showing more and more, I became increasingly self-conscious.” Due to his preference for the buzz-cut look, Mills had ruled out many hair-replacement treatments, but when he discovered scalp micropigmentation, he jumped at the chance to try it. “It wasn’t very painful,” he reveals, “just a little irritating, and it was well worth any discomfort! I’m extremely happy with the results.” Of course, many of the follicular-challenged choose to forego treatment altogether. After several years of struggling with a rough self-image, Hunter decided to cut his losses by changing his perspective and playing to his strengths. “When I started feeling better about myself physically, I started to see my shaved head more as a sign of discipline than giving up,” he says. “Keeping my head shaved clean takes a lot of maintenance, so I have to do it often or it looks sloppy. When I shave my head, I feel like I’m getting my shit under control.” As for playing to his strengths? “I lift weights so clothes look good on me, and now I also have a sweet beard!” he boasts. “I always see guys who say ‘I wish I could grow a beard!’ and they’ve all got lots of hair.” So what’s Hunter’s best piece of advice for guys coming to grips with male pattern balding? “Guys who are balding are prime candidates for the next wave of bearded powerlifters. There are lots of them out there — just too beastly for head hair,” he jokes. “Harness that power and turn a curse into a blessing!”
*Name has been changed.